Thanks to the support of a Visiting Fellowship from the Hoover Institution, I was able to spend a couple of weeks this month working in some amazing newly-opened Afghan collections and important Soviet-related collections there. I’ve posted a short write-up of some of my very preliminary findings there, which the interested can read here.
Over at The Wire, an Indian news portal that I enjoy following, I’ve published a piece relating some of the themes in Humanitarian Invasion: Global Development in Cold War Afghanistan to present-day Indian concerns. Check it out here.
While Humanitarian Invasion is substantially devoted to Cold War developmental politics and transnational humanitarian aid, earlier chapters of the book explore how Afghanistan’s governing elites sought to distance the country from the moneychangers and trading houses in lowland India (then the British Raj). Later, of course, Partition separated India from Afghanistan through the formation of Pakistan. And during the 1980s, New Delhi was one of the few countries to recognize the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (as the country was called from 1978 until the late 1980s).
All of these episodes make for a complicated legacy that Indian policymakers must deal with as India seeks to exercise influence in Afghanistan, Iran, and Central Asia. (India has recently completed major development projects in Afghanistan, marking one of the few cases where India has acted as an aid donor rather than an aid recipient.) As I show in the piece, a grasp of some of the history of relations between the two countries might help to set expectations for a relationship into which Indians and Afghans invest great hopes.
A quick update regarding my recent book, Humanitarian Invasion: Global Development in Cold War Afghanistan. I lately had the chance to come across recently founded and terrific blog by several American and British graduate students called Peripheral Histories. It’s devoted to the study of “peripheral” regions of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. Here they are in their own words:
The Peripheral Histories? blog exists to challenge the logic that the ‘periphery’ was every really ‘peripheral’ to the history of Russia and the USSR. It poses and addresses several broad questions: How do differences of geography, culture, society, ethnicity, and nationality shape local, provincial, and imperial identities? Why do some regions and localities come to be seen as ‘peripheral’? How are divisions between ‘centre’ and periphery’ perceived over time? And how do scholars access the materials needed to address these questions?
Intrigued, I decided to write down a few of my thoughts on how the USSR’s peripheries got into the game of development aid in Afghanistan during the Cold War. It’s common to think of Soviet development aid to Afghanistan as coördinated by some giant faceless bureaucracy in Moscow—and for the most part, it was. This is a process that scholars like Oscar Sanchez-Sibony, among others, have demonstrated well.
However, as I show in the piece, Soviet peripheries both expanded outward and sucked Afghanistan inward, so to speak. Specialists from Soviet Uzbekistan were sent to state farms in eastern Afghanistan, and often the entire Uzbek topsoil came with them to ensure optimal growing conditions. The plant cultures for olives came from Azerbaijan to start olive groves in the east, as well. And later, in the 1980s, peripheral regions of Russia itself took in hundreds of Afghan orphans. The takeaway I offer in the piece is that while scholars of international history might think first to look at the archives of Foreign Ministries, provincial locations were also quite involved in the execution, if not the actual conception, of foreign policy.
Thanks to the efforts of the good people at Cambridge University Press, a short video of yours truly discussing my recent book, Humanitarian Invasion: Global Development in Cold War Afghanistan, can be viewed online here. It runs to about 8 minutes, and it it I try to cover a few basic questions about why I wrote the book, and what the approach in the monograph—a ground-up view of Afghanistan as a real place rather than as something schemed over in the foreign ministries of Moscow and Washington—brings to the table.
More in-depth podcasts and media pieces on the book are forthcoming, but thanks goes to a terrific staff at CUP in New York. I hope to have the chance to work again with them in the future.
Another quick update on public-facing work related to my recent book, Humanitarian Invasion: Global Development in Cold War Afghanistan.
Courtesy of Exeter colleague (and himself recent book author!) Marc-William Palen, I was able to pen a few thoughts on the history of development and humanitarianism in Afghanistan during the Cold War. You can find them here, under the title “Graveyard of Empires? Writing the Global History of Development in Cold War Afghanistan.” More broadly, Marc’s Imperial and Global Forum is a great source of information on things related to international history.
Here’s the first blog update in a long, long time, as my activities over at the Toynbee Prize Foundation have occupied most of my e-attention since 2013. This February 16, 2016, I had the opportunity to speak on my recent book, Humanitarian Invasion: Global Development in Cold War Afghanistan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016) at the Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Archives at New York University’s Bobst Library.
This was the first public presentation I’ve done regarding the book, and unfortunately, we were obliged to remove the audience Q&A from the taping for various reasons of legal liability. That’s too bad, since the questions were great and really pushed me to discuss issues in the historiography of development and international history that the book only begins to broach. Here’s hoping that future works will touch on issues like the changing ambitions of Scandivanian humanitarianism in Southern Africa and Asia during the Cold War, and the extent to which Afghanistan represents or does not represent a typical blend of war and humanitarian activity as one of the 1980’s “hot wars” in the Third World.
Thanks again go to Timothy V Johnson for organizing the event, as well as to Professor Mary Nolan (NYU History Department) for making the event possible.
Followers of this blog will have noted that, since I’ve assumed the duties of Executive Director for the Toynbee Prize Foundation, my posting frequency has declined a bit. Fortunately, however, that’s only because my responsibilities there have seen me writing longer pieces–mostly interviews with leading historians–that readers can access at Foundation’s website. For those interested, the last month or so has seen
• An interview with Adam Tooze on his new book The Deluge
• A conversation with Jeremy Friedman, author of a forthcoming monograph on the Sino-Soviet Split and the Third World
• An interview with Jenifer van Vleck on her book Empire of the Air and writing U.S. history in a global context
• And, lest readers fear too much favoritism towards Yale historians based on the first three, a write-up of an excellent conference on development that I attended at Columbia University this October
Posting will continue to be infrequent here as I continue my work for the Foundation, but I will seek to update this blog as often as possible with links to Toynbee Foundation content.